An Italian Renaissance
Choosing Life in Canada
By Robert Eli Rubinstein
Urim Publications, 2010, 178 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 3, 2011
Rubenstein tells what happened to his parents and family after suffering the inhuman horrors of the holocaust, how they spend time in one of several refugee camps in Italy, and how they create a renaissance there that leads to success in Canada. It is an inspiring tale because of how they overcome their ordeals and because it provokes readers to realize that they too can prevail and improve their lives. He writes that many holocaust survivors and their children are unable to cast off the demons that scar their lives. They fear uniforms and crowds and suffer nightmares. But, he continues: "This book is different: it focuses on the post-war process of healing and rehabilitation among survivors, a subject that has received scant attention despite its clear importance."
Rubinstein writes well with interesting details, as if he is writing a novel. He tells about the foresighted way his grandmother saves his mother from the gas chamber. He tells about a child of immigrants growing up among children of "normal" parents, parents who lack an unusual past, parents who speak unaccented English, parents who understand the Canadian culture, the clothes, the toys, the TV programs, parents who can help their children with their homework. He tells about the conspiracy of silence among holocaust survivors, an unwilling silence, a silence caused by their psychological injuries.
He tells how after the end of the war, his parents, unmarried at that time, returned to their homeland hoping to find their family, or at least some of them, alive. His mother found her home unlawfully occupied by non-Jews and saw a woman wearing her mother's stolen clothes. His father returned to hear that his first wife and children had been murdered by the Nazis, and his city occupied by Russians, a new oppressor. His mother, young and beautiful, received many marriage proposals and then settled on his father, who was twelve years her senior. But there was a problem, which he discusses, for there was no proof that his father's first wife was dead. His parents decide to leave Hungary and go to Israel, but are stopped by the government. Finally, by luck, if you could call it that, they end up in an Italian displaced persons camp of some three thousand people, where they stay for three years, where he is born.
He tells unusual stories about the people in the camp and of non-Jews they meet. Many of the Jews are scarred by their experiences and refuse to attend the synagogue except on Yom Kippur for the memorial Yizkor service; they come in time for only this part of the service, but leave quickly when Yizkor ends. The Italians make sure that the needs of the Jews are taken care of, but because there are insufficient jobs for the native Italians, the Jews are refused work. Yet, he tells how Italian men and women help the Jews in the camp, beautiful stories.
His parents' attempts to travel to Israel end because of the despicable British policy of keeping Jews from the holy land. No other country wants them, even Canada. He tells about the bigotry of the Canadian leaders of the time who said that no Jew entering Canada is too many. Only the ingenuity of some Canadian Jews makes it possible for his parents to come to Canada. However, the Canadian Jewish community mistreats them. Why should we give them special treatment, they complain, we never got it? And so they demand payment for everything they give to the holocaust survivors.
But then, as he shows in the rest of the book, contrary to the anti-Semitic claims of the Canadian leaders, the Rubinstein family starts their own fur business and later a construction business and makes considerable contributions to the improvement of their adopted country. Throughout it all, they remain faithful to Judaism, and the stories of their observances of the Shabbat are inspirational.